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    Home / College Guide / Leaving Babylon, pt. 5
     Posted on Sunday, June 16 @ 00:00:07 PDT

    Losses are part of life. People die. Churches collapse. I am uncommonly sympathetic to all of this and do not deny that yes, there is a “war on Christmas.” Yes, “the gub’nament” is trying to take guns away from individuals who feel strongly that they should be able to do whatever they want. And yes, “rap music is rotting our children’s minds with high-anus filth and blazz-phemy.” A hundred times over, yes. I am quite familiar with the so-called oppression that White Nationalism – embodied in Evangelicalism – endures in this country. As a white person and former Evangelical, I “get it.” There is, to be sure, an active effort to dismantle, deconstruct, and defund White Supremacy and Christian Nationalism in all its forms. There is, indeed, a war on Christmas insofar as the facile sentimentalism of Sweet Baby Jesus, white and born to a white couple, is being replaced by a more biblical account of migrants for whom “there was no room.” There is an active effort to offer education as an alternative to ignorance. And yes, many agencies are trying to prohibit, inhibit, and remove weapons from those who are stockpiling armories and publicly insisting that “the uprising is coming,” one where they – the good people – will need to slaughter their neighbors – the bad people.

    In these ways, yes. I am sympathetic, having grown up under the oppression of these messages. I am sympathetic because I know there are many people whose tender-hearted search for holiness has been hardened into social and political extremism. I am sympathetic because I grew up with people who, like me, were indoctrinated to believe they were good when they were harsh and violent and loud. And I am sympathetic because Evangelicalism – a group I once identified with – is being held accountable. Where I break from these beliefs is that while they continue to feel victimized, I came to my senses and deprogrammed from cultic thinking. Children of Evangelicals are fleeing from their homes, eager to exit the orbit of suffocation and toxicity. Church members are hemorrhaging from denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention, whose aging members continue to death spiral toward irrelevance. Even then, Evangelicals choose to blame their children and damn them to eternal damnation rather than pause to ask whether they might have chosen the wrong side of whatever “culture war” Fox News has convinced them is a threat to Christianity, a Christian nation, or “sensible” Republicanism.

    In this, Evangelicals have failed to “believe” in and continue to fail to live by the Bible they idolize. They listen, but fail to hear. They read, but fail to see. Even when it is spelled out line by line, precept upon precept, in scripture, they choose that which is deplorable. They choose to call evil good and good evil. They profane the name of God. And never pause to question any of this. This narrative is so familiar to many Americans that we can accurately predict where it is moving, what the consequences will be. Evangelicals, like their Jewish predecessors, will try to rewrite history. They will marginalize their own, those who speak with a prophetic voice. They will try to rewrite history; they already are to accommodate their slanted perception of reality. Yes, a hundred times yes, Evangelicals are victims. But only because they have no other narrative to offer to the world. There is no salvation to be found within Evangelicalism. Instead of adapting and changing and growing like the Jewish people did millennia ago, Evangelicals are choosing to rewrite history because rewriting history is never about history. It is about the future. And what a grim, hopeless future they are trying to carve out – one where whores ride dragons, where long-defeated “Babylon” is resurrected only long enough to become a place of damnation.

    The animosity continues into eternity, shaming what God has done and what God is still trying to accomplish in this world. For the Jew, Babylon represents the rejection of specialness. Babylon, in scripture, is a renunciation of Israel’s claims to specialness. Their temple destroyed, the people taken captive and brought to Babylon, race and religion would have been the primary ways this would have been felt. The refuse – the poor, the illiterate, the weak, the sick – were left behind. For the “chosen” people who were taken into Babylon’s thrall, they were quickly put into a confusing pool of diversity, people like the Israelites who had also felt they were special until they, like the Israelites, were taken captive. In terms of their health and wealth, in a new economy and climate, both of these would have suffered. Slavery takes many forms, but so does freedom. The conservative strand of Judaism perpetuated a false and ahistorical narrative of oppression, despite benefitting greatly from Babylon and its legacy – economically, culturally, and spiritually. We can see in the Revelation of John that Early Christians were beginning to do the same thing with their narratives, though the great fire of Rome in 64 C.

    E., the fall of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., undoubtedly lend credence to their claims. The oppression of Emperor Nero was oppressive to all under his reign, especially the Christian community who claimed “Jesus is King.” Much later, Evangelicals (who are, I must continue to insist, not Christian at all) and invented the term “Judeo-Christian Values” to reflect their own values instead of the values held by Jews or Christians. Even now, conservatives like the rotating hosts of Fox News present a narrative of aggrievement and victimhood, violations of “Judeo-Christian Values” in America. They are gaslighting their audience to believe they are a minority in terms of race, religion, culture, and values. They exacerbate fears that they themselves created, demanding action in situations from which they manifestly, evidently, and materially benefit. Their message of apocalyptic governmental overreach, entirely based on conspiracy theories instead of facts or evidence, is one where former President Obama (who has actively been producing documentaries with Netflix since he left Washington) is still out there somewhere trying “to take away your guns.” It is one where every woman who has a miscarriage is a murderer – but only if she voted for a Democrat.

    “Real” miscarriages only happen to Republican women who fear God and obey their husbands. Christopher F. Rufo writes in his America’s Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything (2023) that he suffers as an oppressed minority in America. As a white male, he claims he is forbidden from speaking about his experience. I have seen the hideous face of revolution. My first encounter was in Seattle, Washington, where I began my career as a political journalist. When I started reporting on the city’s homelessness crisis, Seattle’s left-wing activists engaged in a relentless pressure campaign against my family, targeting our reputations, attempting to get my wife fired, publishing threats with our home address, and putting up menacing posters around my oldest son’s elementary school. Their objective was simple: silence, marginalize, and suppress – all, somehow, in the name of tolerance and an open society. At the time, I thought of myself as a moderate. But that experience opened my eyes to the real nature of left-wing politics. It radicalized me. A few years later, when my reporting shifted to critical race theory, I discovered the same dynamic at a national scale: American institutions were playing the same cynical game, marshalling the forces of guilt, shame, and scapegoating in order to enforce a left-wing political orthodoxy.

    Government agencies were teaching that ‘all white people’ are racist. Public schools were separating children into ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed.’ Fortune 100 corporations were pushing the idea that the United States was a ‘white supremacy system.’ What follows in Rufo’s fictional biography is a chronicle of how he single-handedly changed America. He is a hero – to himself, first of all, but also to his wife and children who respect him. But he is also the victim – of society, of his hometown, of “American institutions” that have been called to embody diversity, equity, and inclusion in their policies and practices – whose reputation, whose family, whose entire (hard-working) career is based on his heroism. That’s why he writes, to share his experience of oppression and liberate other white, Christian, heterosexual men from feeling unappreciated and without the respect they inherently deserve. Evangelicals routinely assert the same thing that the ancient Israelite community asserted, that they are special. Unlike the Israelites however, Evangelicals, Republicans, White Nationalists, and White Identitarians do not acknowledge the correction of God in any of their present circumstances.

    If they were really a victim, might there be a divine reason for declining church membership, calls for accountability, divestment, a higher ethical and moral standard than the one they are expressing publicly. Simplifying their claims to legitimacy, to privilege, to “right-ness” requires a streamlined message of victimhood without cause or reason. It is not God correcting them through the eyeroll of a barista, or the consequences of calling that same barista “a fucking nigger bitch.” instead, the eyeroll is a denial of their specialness, an offense that cannot go unnoticed. It is an offense to their specialness that must be immediately challenged. For the Evangelical, there is no such thing as accountability, of consequence, of social responsibility. These too are “under the blood” of Jesus. Oppressors, in this way, become the oppressed. It is far easier to make Babel/Babylon into the spiritual realm of evil, the mentality, that facilitates this oppression, than it is to take responsibility for one’s egregious sins. At the end of the Christian Scriptures, disconnected from the rest of the canon, the Revelation of John appears. In his recorded vision of the apocalypse that will occur at the end of time, John strings together the imagery of the Jewish prophets with one glaring difference.

    God is no longer punishing the community and people of God. Rather, Satan is. In John’s vision, Babylon is depicted as the “whore of Babylon”, a new character in the spirituality of the Christian community. It might be accurate to translate the article out of the noun to instead read it as an adjective, “the whore Babylon” or “Babylon the whore.” This makes more sense, rather than seeing “the whore of Babylon” as an entirely new character in an already abundantly imagistic text. In John’s vision, the whore of Babylon the Great, also known as Babylon the Great, is depicted as a female figure, “the mother of harlots and abominations of the Earth.” She/it is a place of evil, representing “the great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth”. To be clear, John’s descriptor is not only blatantly misogynistic, but excessively sexual. Babylon is a “whore” because it “gets around” and is shared by many nations. However, many commentators – especially in the Twentieth Century and primarily from American commentators – note that Babylon is a city, so she has economic importance. Read this way, Babylon has come to also mean all “self-centered governments, businesses, and religions on the globe.

    ” Whatever their degree of Antisemitism, Bible commentators suppose that the “Mystery Babylon” is now, in modern geography, sometimes Rome, Jerusalem, London, New York, or Chicago, if not an authentic restoration of ancient Babylon in contemporary Iraq, some 55 miles south of Baghdad on the banks of the Euphrates River. It is any of these. Because the Vatican is a corporate entity with means of income, it could even be the Vatican. Then again, while the Vatican is a business, it is also a city and so is Jerusalem. Evangelicals have also claimed Jerusalem is the Whore of Babylon. The number of logical fallacies that riddle Evangelical thinking inevitably produces a tremendous headache even as it remains shockingly counter-factual. Remarkably, there is little consensus on what John intended his metaphor to mean. The “mother of harlots and abominations of the Earth” is speculative, not meant to be taken literally, instead to be taken as ubiquitously permanent and tangible. Said another way, Babylon is both all things and nothing at all. It becomes the eternal bogeyman, or in John’s case, the eternal “whore.” John, I would point out, wrote one of the four Gospels and it is clear that he did not see Jesus the same way that Matthew, Mark, or Luke did.

    These three gospels are so similar that theologians refer to them as “synoptic”, meaning they take the same views and positions. John’s Gospel sets itself apart from these in creating a cosmological, eternal savior named Jesus who is literally human and also the literal embodiment of God, the holy scriptures of the Jewish people, and follows a schematic pattern of seven miracles, and seven declarations of godhood, elements that reappear in the apocalyptic vision he describes in Revelation. Noteworthy is John’s claim in his own gospel that he alone was the most loved, the singularly “beloved disciple” among Jesus’ followers. He depicts himself as “reclining on Jesus’ breast” on the last night Jesus is alive, and as Jesus is dying, he asks John to care for his mother, Mary. Which is say that John’s interpretation of events is self-serving. His retelling of his relationship with Jesus curiously laced with homosexual undertones. The misogyny in his gospel and in his visions is consistent with Revelations at the end of his life. Unlike other key figures in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, he is away from centers of power. Joseph, a figure in the book of Genesis, rises from the prison to become an advisor to the Egyptian Pharaoh.

    His counsel saves the people of God. Much later, Moses, born into slavery among the Israelites, ascends to the court of the Pharaoh. Much of the power struggle between Moses (a member of the oppressed people) and the Pharaoh (the oppressor) reads as brotherly stubbornness. Centuries later, we see numerous figures with proximity to power – Samuel, Esther, Nehemiah, Daniel, to name a few – and all resist the lure to power in various ways, challenging it, seducing it, expressing patience towards those who reside in the seats of power. John is never in that place, however. He is far, far away from power and throwing stones. Tucked away while the events of the Early Church are taking place, he doesn’t even have a say inside the temples and churches when the Jewish sect begins to separate and become Christians. John’s only claim to power is his account of being Jesus’ most loved disciple. Of being so familiar with Jesus – the Eternal One, the embodiment of God, the literal expression of everything sacred – that he can recline on Jesus’ chest. Yet he is the only one who claims this, the only witness to his debatable claims. His love and adoration, not manipulation, are what set him apart.

    These qualities are what, he alone recalls, compel Jesus to ask of him what Jesus will never ask of another – to care for his mother. John entirely disappears after this. While his fellow Jesus-followers are about the business of building churches and expanding the message of Jesus’ salvation to all peoples, John is absent. He has no seat of power, no claim to legitimacy. When he reappears in the Christian scriptures, it is as an exile. Literally. He has, in his elderly dotage, become a political prisoner. It is a shocking epilogue to the romance he depicted in his Gospel. Noteworthy, many biblical scholars are not even sure if John authored the Gospel bearing his name, but they unanimously agree that it is so different from the other three Gospels, the Synoptics, that it is telling a completely different story altogether. As a political exile to the isle of Patmos, John is flush with visions that do not resemble anything else described by the Christian Church. Politically, spiritually, and physically, he has always been “outside the loop” and far away from the centers of power. Yet as he details each step in the order and pattern of the end of the world, he frames power as the corruptor.

    While John echoes the prophet Daniel, he is not like Daniel. He is neither close to power, nor able to weild it. The “whore Babylon” influences nations, seducing them. The last two prophets will die in the streets of Jerusalem at the order of “The Antichrist”, a political figure whose swift ascent to power is a telltale sign that he does not belong there. It is a bizarre and horrifying description of the end of the world that, again, bears no resemblance to the doctrine, theology, or way of life that the Christians have been taught by the close followers of Jesus. John bears little resemblance to his fellow apostles. He had no ministry to even sharper his thinking. And while he is dissimilar to his fellow apostles, he is even further afield from the theologian Paul, even Jesus’ brother James. It doesn’t fit. It is strange not only for what is recalled in the Revelation, but for its inclusion in the Christian canon at all. So why should Christians take anything John says about Babylon seriously? Let me jump to the conclusion here: They shouldn’t. But why do they? Some do reluctantly, not entirely convinced that Revelation should be taken literally. Scholars do not, taking Revelation – like Daniel – as a roman a clef with hidden meanings, namely parallels to the tyranny of Nero.

    Most do so selectively, with a great measure of hesitation and admittance that they do not (and perhaps never will) understand what John is talking about. Women, whores or otherwise, typically do not ride dragons to influence nations except in fantasy novels so even when the vision is taken seriously, it is still hard to comprehend the entire world on fire even as daily news reports show that very thing, quite literally. Evangelicals, however, take the text literally and do so without question, without any from of critical thought or analysis like they should with any text but especially one that makes the claims John’s Revelation does. This is the crux of the misunderstanding. Even when shown a world, this world, the one God supposedly made and gave to humans, when shown this world on fire – literally – Evangelicals continue to believe this is not what John meant, literally or figuratively. Hell is not now, it is still not yet – and will somehow be worse. The oppression described in Revelation is still not yet, and in fact it is permissable to align with evil now because there is a evil to come much later than they will be able to resist. No. Evangelicals maintain that John’s Revelation is literal only insofar as it is a horror tale of oppression where they alone are the victims.

    The suffering that the rest of the world is currently experiencing? Proof that they need to pray more and aspire to become like the Evangelicals. The oppression that the rest of the world is currently experiencing? Collateral damage they are willing to accept. And proof that they need to aspire to become like Evangelicals. The economic suffering that the majority of the world is currently experiencing? Again, proof that they should work harder and become like Evangelicals. Their refusal to work harder, pull themselves up out of their bootstraps, and be positive in their suffering is not the suffering John meant. The Evangelical Jesus will be much harsher if those “fucking idiots don’t get with the program. Jesus is coming back. And boy is He pissed.” It is a tragic irony that Evangelicals take Revelation literally, yet never see themselves (religious as they are) in the role of the seven churches that begin John’s vision, people known for their hardness of heart and abandonment of the actual, identifiable works of righteousness. Their strange teachings. Their fascination with sexual issues. Their spiritual deadness. The forsaking of Jesus’ teaching. The unquestioning embrace of power, something John directly identifies as evil.

    The false ways of living that have been normalized. The loud insistence of Evangelicals that they are spiritually rich when they are materially rich, that money is all that matters. Their apathy and their inability to see that all of this – their corruption, their confusion, their perversion, their hardness of heart and judgementalism – has always been exposed. Their “nakedness” has been exposed, and that the only remaining answer for their inability to see this is that they are, in fact, spiritually blind. In all of this, Evangelicals maintain that they are good people and the victims of an eternally polymorphus “Babylon”, one that is a city and a nation and a way of life and a whore and public education and movies, the arts, dancing, drugs, immorality, sexual perversion, political party, and laws about dogs and leashes. The more Evangelicals speak about “Babylon” and the ways her hydra-like tentacles have already taken root in America – or Europe, or Russia, or China, or South Korea, or Mexico, or or or – the more pitiable they sound and appear. Their nakedness has been laid bare, their blindness evident to the rest of us here in Babylon. Dualistic thinking, where everything we do is either good or evil is how I was taught to see the world.

    It was a challenge and I continually felt like I was wrong for believing sometimes we are merely human, something between the two opposing poles of morality. When I began working with an Evangelical church in college, I was so eager to be a part of things that I was quickly brought on staff. This, I discovered, did not protect me from accusations made against me. Once, sharing that I understood the claims of the Christian community to supercede those of flag and country as Jesus taught, as Paul taught, as James taught, as Peter taught, as even John taught, I was angrily told by congregants that I was too young to say such things. One person even correct me by saying, “Jesus died to give us America. Loyalty to America is loyalty to God.” Later, expressing that despite my youth and inexperience, I understood Paul’s meandering claims about doing the things that I hated and would have otherwise resisted. There is a dark corner of the human psyche, I said. Again, I was corrected. “Paul said we have been set free from evil,” I was told. “A Christian – a *real* Christian never struggles with sin.” There was good and evil in the world, and if I understood evil, it was only because I myself was evil “in the inward man” of the heart and mind.

    This too was an expression of Babylon already claiming me for itself, seducing me away from “true faith” into wickedness and unrighteousness. I never fully embraced that way of life, that way of thinking. Eventually, I felt relieved. I looked around at the people I knew who did believe it and their lives were a wreck. They hurt people. They abused people and disguised their abuse with claims to legitimacy, to holiness and righteousness, to something God had “shared” with them. They did it in the name of God, consequences be what they may. On an on, they avoided responsibility – “don’t take it up with me, take it up with God.” I felt relief as much as pity, but had the sense not to say this to them. Their zeal rivaled my own, only we had gone in different directions. Historian Mark Noll, in his The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994), chronicles how the emerging cult of Evangelicalism had come to reject the life of the mind. Looking to their Christian origins, Evangelicals had, over decades, eroded and then rewritten their history. Christians were once known for the intellecutal aspects of their faith, for logic and reason, promoting the arts and culture, until their claims were consistently proven illogical.

    Now their progeny, Evangelicals, are known for willful ignorance, intolerance, and continual denegration of the arts, sciences, and literature. Noll writes, Modern evangelicals are the spiritual descendants of leaders and movements distinguished by probing, creative, fruitful attention to the mind. Most of the original Protestant traditions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican) either developed a vigorous intellectual life or worked out theological principles that could (and often did) sustain penetrating, and penetratingly Christian, intellectual endeavor. Closer to the American situation, the Puritans, the leaders of the eighteenth-century evangelical awakenings like John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, and a worthy line of North American stalwarts in the nineteenth century — like the Methodist Francis Asbury, the Presbyterian Charles Hodge, the Congregationalist Moses Stuart, and the Canadian Presbyterian George Monro Grant, to mention only a few — all held that diligent, rigorous mental activity was a way to glorify God. None of them believed that intellectual activity was the only way to glorify God, or even the highest way, but they all believed in the life of the mind, and they believed in it because they were evangelical Christians.

    Unlike their spiritual ancestors, modern evangelicals have not pursued comprehensive thinking under God or sought a mind shaped to its furthest reaches by Christian perspectives. Noll was observing, when he published his work in 1994, that Evangelicals were in the midst of finally uncoupling themselves from the traditions of the West. They were doing a second thing, though. Something that Noll did not name, or perhaps even notice. Evangelicals were actively rewriting their history and theology. They were rewriting their history as though they reflected genuine Christianity. Claiming Christian history as their own by naming key figures, councils, events, and developments, Evangelicals were rewriting, revising, and editing away long held beliefs taught by the fathers and mothers of the Church. They were ultimately rewriting how Scripture was understood, reframing how Judaism could be understood, reinforcing blood libels of Jews – all Jews, everywhere, across all time – as murderers, swindlers, and temporary placeholders for the triump of Evangelicalism, which had always been Gospel-centered and focused from the foundations of the world. They were perverting history. All of this had been playing out in the shadows of academia throughout the Twentieth Century, where history and theology, logic and reason, arts and culture, had long been enshrined.

    In the Eighties, the change was no longer tenable. It could no longer be seen as incomplete or selective research, a difference of denominational beliefs, or reliance on the thought of individual scholars. It was entirely other; Evangelicals were not merely interpreting events and texts differently. They were insisting their interpretations were the only ones that had ever existed, all others were “false” and thus “demonic.” It was a bold claim, deeply disturbing for the ways in which it rejected the spirit of the Academy as well as for the ways in which it condemned the billions of “others” (non-White, non-heteronormative, non-American, and by the next decade non-Republican) who had different experiences, interpretations, and histories beyond the ones contrived by Evangelicalism. As Noll puts it, many Christians at the middle of the century were exhausted. The world had fallen into two global wars, both of which had devastated nations. The extent of human atrocity was found to be far beyond what had been imagined previously. It is still being calculated. Many Christians abandoned the intellectual aspects of their faith because what had felt True for so long now felt woefully inadequate in a new century.

    The Church was not above reproach. After all, the Nazis had found willing accomplices in the German churches; Mussolini’s regime would not have been possible with Roman Catholicism; in America, antisemitism like the kind espoused by Father Charles Coughlin on his daily radio program and speaking tour had almost tipped the scales in Hitler’s favor. The world, it seemed, teetered on the brink because of the Church’s doctrinal claims. Evangelicals were merely “saving” the Gospel from those who had profaned it. They were “saving” history by finally telling it the way it had always been meant to have been taught. The foundation of these claims were, as should be obvious, a secret knowledge which ran parallel to that of the Ivory Towers across America. Yet, as Noll writes, the most important detail is not the deficiency of intellectual rigor within Evangelicalism but its inability to engage with intellectualism at all. Christians, returning from war, were neither prepared nor inclined to enter into intellectual debates. The events of the last few years had been too overwhelming. Continued in pt. 6

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